July 29, 2021

AL East Positional Analysis And Ranking: Third Base

February 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

I am in the midst of a series examining the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams in the AL East, on a position-by-position basis. The players at each position are being ranked in relation to their peers within the division, with each team being assigned points based on where their player ranks in comparison to the other players. Today, the series continues with a look at the third basemen.

The best player will earn 10 points for his team, with the remaining players being assigned points as follows: 7-5-3-1.

At the end of the process, I will accumulate all of the points for each team and create a divisional power ranking.

Analysis / Ranking:

 

 

 

Here are the 2010 statistics for each of the five projected starters entering the 2011 season. The chart presents the five basic stats used in fantasy baseball, plus OPS+ and Runs Above Replacement (RAR). The rankings contained herein are based on these stats, plus projections as to what the upcoming year may have in store.

 

 

1. Evan Longoria, TB

Longoria is just 25 years old, but he has already established himself as one of the most valuable players in the major leagues. His batting average and on-base percentage have increased each year, and his OPS has been remarkably consistent during his three years in The Show (between .874 and .879). During the last two years, the former AL Rookie of the Year has posted WARs of 7.3 and 6.9, and RARs of 31.5 and 28.3. He has won consecutive Gold Glove Awards (posting UZR/150s of 12.4 and 16.9) and while he did not repeat as a Silver Slugger Award winner last year, he was the only third baseman in baseball to hit at least .290, with 20+ HR, 100+ RBI, 95+ R and 15+ SB.

The question at this point is how productive he will be after the departures of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have been outstanding performers during their careers, but they are older and now only a shell of their former selves. Damon won’t set the table like Crawford did… and Manny isn’t the power threat he used to be (and Pena has been over the last several years). Pitchers are likely to pitch around him, and it will be interesting to see how Longoria adjusts to new pitching patterns. Patience will be a key.

For fantasy owners: While most pundits project there will be continued growth in Longoria’s statistics, I believe he will post numbers eerily similar to his 2010 line… potentially with a slight regression. Pitchers will pitch around him and opt to face (presumably) Ramirez instead. In all probability, he demonstrate patience early in the year, but it says here he will get frustrated as the season progresses. His batting average will suffer as he tries to do too much. I foresee .275, with 30 HR, 90 RBI, 95 R and 17 SB in 2011.

2. Kevin Youkilis, BOS

Youkilis was on pace to have the best offensive year of his career last year when a thumb injury sidelined him after 100 games. In spite of his abbreviated campaign, he posted an OPS+ of 157 and a RAR of 19.1 in 362 AB, extending a three-year run of elite offensive production. His peripherals are scary-consistent. His power metric over the last three years has been 166, 160 and 164.

Due to the off-season addition of 1B Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox will move “Youk” back across the diamond to third base – where he posted a UZR/150 of 20 as recently of 2008. It should be like getting back on a bicycle.

So why is Longoria rated #1 and Youkilis #2? Longoria wins by a nose because he is toting around a pair of Gold Gloves at the hot corner.

For fantasy owners: According to published reports, Youkilis will be 100% by the time the Red Sox are playing baseball games in Florida at the end of the month. Unlike Evan Longoria in Tampa, he will have the luxury of batting in the heart of a significantly-improved lineup – amid Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford and David Ortiz. I look for him to hit .300+ again, with 28 HR, 100+ RBI, 95 R and 5 SB. In the world of fantasy baseball, I think you could rate Longoria and Youkilis as #1-A and #1-B… interchangeable… and it doesn’t matter who gets assigned “A” and who gets assigned “B”.

3. Alex Rodriguez, NYY

I began this exercise thinking Bautista should be ranked third and Rodriguez fourth, but the numbers just didn’t support that assumption, for even as age and health concerns have started to eat away at A-Rod’s production he remains one of the elite third basemen in the game.

That said, he is in the midst of a four-year decline in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, RAR and WAR. If I had any reason to suspect Bautista could put together a year remotely resembling last season, A-Rod would have been dropped to fourth in these rankings.

Nagging injuries (calf, groin) could explain the sizeable jump in his ground ball rate last year (up to 46%), but it doesn’t explain why his walk rate dropped to just 9.9% (well off the 15% rate he posted in 2009). His pitches/plate appearance metric was right at his career mark of 3.93, so it is not as if it was a function of being less patient. Maybe he was just trying to pull everything… but, if that is the explanation, you have to be curious as to the reason. Was he trying to compensate for something that was otherwise lacking?

A-Rod’s defense is pretty brutal (UZR/150 of -8.1 and -2.3 the last two years). Unless Longoria and / or Youkilis regress substantially at the plate, Rodrihuez will rank no better as third on this list from this point forward.

For fantasy owners: In spite of his declining production over the last few years, A-Rod continues to ride an MLB-record streak of 13 consecutive seasons with 30+ HR and 100+ RBI. Is this the year the streak comes to an end? Probably not. Assuming decent health, I would expect his walk-rate, hit rate (28%) and BABIP (a career-low .274 last season) to improve towards career norms… as a result, I would expect his batting average, home runs and rbi to increase.

4. Jose Bautista, TOR

I really wanted to rank Bautista ahead of A-Rod, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. While he had an extraordinary season last year, it was clearly an outlier in a career that has been pretty unexceptional (his career-best OPS+ entering last season was 99). And what is truly remarkable is that he achieved his accomplishments in spite of posting an abysmal .233 BABIP and a hit-rate of just 24%.

But lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. (Does it?) There is no reason to expect that he can come close to replicating last year’s performance. He posted a career-best walk rate, and approached his career bests in strikeout rate, contact rate, fly ball rate, HR/fb, etc.

For fantasy owners: Don’t treat Bautista like an elite fantasy performer… he’s not (or at least he shouldn’t be treated like one on the basis of ONE season). Many fantasy owners have had their seasons dashed because they treated a career-year as a base-line for future performance. He will almost certainly regress in 2011, maybe not to career averages, but certainly much closer to them than to last year’s unlikely levels.

5. Mark Reynolds, BAL

Reynolds is a much better player than he showed last year. While his contact rate has been pretty brutal throughout his career, last year’s rate of 58% was horrible even by his standards. Add to that a paltry .257 BABIP and you start to understand how he hit just .198.

His peripherals suggest he will continue to be an elite home run hitter, especially in Camden Yards – a ballpark that is built for right-handed power hitters. He has posted a solid power metric over the last few years in Arizona – it was a 195 last year, when he had a fly ball rate of 55% and a HR/fb rate of 20%.

For fantasy owners: Reynolds will never be a league-average hitter, but he should be able to improve last year’s BA. While his new ballpark should help convert a few outs into some XBH, playing against the pitching in the AL East on a day-in, day-out basis certainly won’t help his BA. You should expect he will hit .230 +/-, with 35 HR and 85 RBI. If you are going to have him on your team, make sure to balance him out with Joe Mauer on your roster.

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